La Salette’s Concern for the Social Order

Untitled-1Pope St. John Paul II
As people connected to the reconciling message of the La Salette apparition, we are witnessing widening gaps between peoples of the world. It is no longer a question of armed conflict, ethnic prejudice or the wealth and poverty of nations. There is no doubt that these play crucial roles in the alienation of peoples. But other factors have entered the scene and are exacerbating the crisis of injustice on every continent and in every country throughout the world.

Way back in 1987, Pope St. John Paul II followed up his encyclical, Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), with another encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (Concern [of the Church] for the Social Order). It has been described as “a progressive application of the central concept of justice” from the Church for society at large.


Pervasive Injustice – Deprivation vs. Superabundance


Injustice is at the root of every single evil separating peoples everywhere. This may seem to be a blanket condemnation but the fact of injustice becomes apparent as one notes the areas of poverty and deprivation across the entire spectrum of humanity.

If the whole planet were poor and deprived of many necessities of human life then those needs could not be said to be unjustly caused by some nations against others, some nations withholding or depriving others of needed essentials for acceptable levels for the dignity of human existence. For every single type of poverty or deprivation there exists in our civilization an opposite glut and abundance sufficient at least to alleviate the distress and sometimes to provide the self help resources that would allow that nation or region to lift itself out of want.

For example, I refer to illiteracy which is the cause of many other poverties. In some countries illiteracy is widespread. Other countries are repositories of science and literature.

Therte is the blight of poor hygiene or the total absence thereof in some countries. Other nations have the means and the know-how to solve many of these problems. They have managed to set up deamnding hygienic standards for their own people and would be able to lend assistance to others in this area.

Untitled-2The same arguement would apply to production, distribution of goods (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #7), health and housing drinking water (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #14), working conditions, life expectancy (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #14).


La Salette and Contemporary Evils


In relation to La Salette and the world, the need for reconciliation has broadened during this twentieth century. Contemporary evils have not basically changed but they have risen to the consciousness of the entire world through ease of travel and the media. Now, everyone is aware of the immense gap that exists between consciousness and conscience, between knowing and doing or between awareness and responsibility. As noted above, most of the world's needs, shortages and deprivations are generated by an ethical vacuum (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #16-17).

Untitled-3The problem is ethical. We have had examples of this in all of our countries. Corrupt government officials at all levels. Corrupt political organizations and mechanisms (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #40) put in place to favor those who run them (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #16).

The problem is also integrality – belonging as part of the whole. Every time the Pope speaks of development he speaks of development throughout the world. One part of the world is dependent on the other. He says:

“The fact that men and women in various parts of the world feel personally affected by the injustices and violations of human rights committed in distant countries, countries which perhaps they will never visit, is a further sign of a reality transformed into awareness, thus acquiring a moral connotation” (Italics added; Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #38).


Development of Peoples – All Her People


Development of peoples means progress for all the people. It is one of the anchor-ideas of the encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. Solidarity is a closely related concept and also a basic principle stated in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #38.

To this idea corresponds Our Lady of La Salette’s injunction to make her message known to all her people. Her reason for this was not merely for publicity but also to bring about the moral redress that all her people needed to undergo. Solidarity was expressed here when she repeatedly referred to “all my people”. This centered our daily life around her Son, Jesus, who had redeemed that same people on the cross she wore on her breast that day.

Our Lady refers to her people in the opening words of her message: “If my people will not obey...” She repeats it at the close of her message when she urges the children to "make it known to all my people".

Her final words to the children as she crossed the stream bed and began “walking” up the side of the ravine were: “Well, my children, you will not fail to make this known to all my people.” This was certainly a preoccupation of hers, that this message was applicable to all the nations of the earth and that it would surely benefit the entire world.

Once again there was more than publicity involved here, more than the desire that all her people know of her apparition and what she said and did on the mountain.


Sin and Structures of Sin


Untitled-4Throughout the encyclical, Pope John Paul II speaks about sin and structures of sin. "If the present situation results from difficulties of various types, it would not be out of the question to speak of "structures of sin", which, as I have already shown in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, have personal sin as their origin, and consequently are always connected to the concrete acts of persons who bring them about, consolidate them and make them difficult to abolish. In this way they gain strenght, become widespread and sources of other sins and so condition the conduct of people" (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #36).

In a footnote that is one of the most original passages of Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, #16 (italics added), Untitled-5Pope John Paul II wants to help us establish the measure of personal responsability within the area of social sinfulness. "To speak of social sin," he says, "means above all to recognize that by virtue of human solidarity which is as mysterious and imperceptible as it is concrete and real, the sin of one person has in some way repercussions on others. This is the reverse of that solidarity which, from a religious point of view, is realized in the profound and admirable mystery of the communion of saints.

Because of it, one can say with Elizabeth Leseur that "every soul that raises itself raises the world". To this law of elevation corresponds, unfortunately, the law of the fall, so much so that one can speak of the communion of sin, by which a person who debases himself in sin also diminishes with him the whole Church, and, in a certain way, the whole world.

In other words, there is no sin, even the most intimate, the most secret and the most strictly individual that affects only and exclusively the one who commits it. Every sin has a repercussion, more or less strong, more or less harmful, on the entire ecclesial community and the whole human family. In this sense, one may indisputably ascribe a social character to every sin (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, #16).


La Salette and the Turbulent World of 1846


We must recall the world context in which the Weeping Mother of La Salette appeared in 1846. Karl Marx had just published the Communist Manifesto which was to affect the entire world. The Industrial Revolution was in its infancy but in a few years it was to spread from England and France, to the new world and beyond. These were the two great movements and influences that were to affect every continent so deeply and shape the world as we see it today. The two largest camps, Liberal Capitalism and Marxist Collectivism were born during the era in which Our Lady appeared at La Salette.

Untitled-6One aspect of the unspoken message of Our Lady is her choice of Maximin and Mélanie as witnesses of her apparition. In many ways they were among the poor and the disenfranchised of the world. Mélanie was certainly among the poorest of the poor. Maximin, while not so deprived, could certainly be placed among the poor of this world. Neither one had any education nor any hope of ever receiving any. At age 14 Mélanie had to work to support her family. Both of them were illiterate. A better social condition was out of the question for both of them.

Our Lady appeared among the poor. The village of La Salette gave a new meaning to the word backwater. This might be one of the most compassionate aspects of her apparition and her message, that she should show anxious concern for the poor and disinherited of the world by appearing in this forsaken spot.

There was definitely a preferential option for the poor expressed at La Salette. Mary appeared to the children in the midst of their work, in a workaday moment of their lives. This would seem to be meaningful. They were chosen as working people performing their tasks. She went to them. Christ did something similar when he chose his apostles while they were performing their tasks as fishermen on the shore of Lake Genesareth.

Untitled-7French La Salette Holy Card from 1880sShe certainly had her choice of witnesses. She could have appeared to more educated and polished children, more pious and prayerful example of Christian childhood. But she chose these. By doing so she was focusing the attention of the world on the working class. She was identifying herself with them by speaking their own local vernacular and wearing a garb resembling that of the local women.

If there were ever any doubt that God were concerned about the world's social conditions, La Salette laid that doubt to rest. At La Salette, the Lady speaks about religious conversion. But by far the greater portion of her discourse deals with the most acute and debasing of all the social ills: famine.

In the English translation of the Discourse, twenty-six out of forty-two lines refer directly to the problem of food. In the latter part of the Discourse she reminds Maximin of an apparently insignificant detail of his past life – one he had completely forgotten since it seemed so trivial. She reminded him of a conversation he had had with his father and the topic was the ever present spectre of famine and hunger. She ended her whole discourse with this story. It was her signature. It told Maximin and the whole world that she knew all about their plight. It told the children and the world that she, the Mother of God, and even more God himself, were also concerned about people's earthly anxieties.


Negative Challenges in the World


The Encyclical cites many negative factors responsible for the world's problem situation.

1) First Negative Consideration: the widening gap between North and South: cultural differences and varying value systems have contributed to create and increase many lapses and defects (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #14).


Untitled-8There are negative socio-economic factors: production and distribution of food; hygiene; health and lodging; drinking water; working conditions; lifespan. There is abject misery on the one hand and scandalous show of wealth and luxury on the other, within the same countries (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #14).

Cultural factor: illiteracy; difficulty or impossibility of acceding to the upper levels of education; inability and impossibility to contribute to the construction of one's own society; all the types of discrimination--the worst one being racial (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #15).

Juridical factors: the strangled right to economic initiative; the destruction of individual creativity; the destruction of countries' right to their own personality; the disappearing (or non-existent) right to internal political freedom (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #15).


2) Second Negative Consideration: the worsening of the world situation.


Evil mechanisms: economic; financial; social--all of which work almost automatically, crystallizing or hardening conditions of wealth or of poverty. In this situation there appears a fourth world, rendered totally incapable of development (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #17).


What are the symptoms of this negative consideration?


The housing crisis (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #1).


The labor crisis (unemployment is widespread--also underemployment. This, like many other factors becomes a generator of other evils (SRS, #18).

The international debt (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #19).

The demographic problem: in terms of South and North.


3) Third Negative Consideration: the deterioration of the political context.


Untitled-9A geopolitical opposition: East and West (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #20).

An ideological opposition: liberal capitalism in the West and Marxist collectivism in the East. Each of these visions is based on a different view and understanding of individuals, of their freedom and social role. They have proposed contrary forms of economic organisation and structuring (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #20).

Military competition: (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #20).

East-West Competition: exported to the South (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #21).

Arms production.

Arms sales (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #24).

Nuclear armament and terrorism (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #24).


Positive Factors in the World


Some Positive Factors are: (SRS, #26).

1) New awareness of human dignity by a great number of men and women throughout the world.

2) The positive inflence exercised by the Human Rights Declaration in the United Nations.

3) The renewed awareness of human dignity by those nations gifted with a cultural identity, and renewed effort at conserving it.

4) The conviction people have of radical interdependence among human beings as well as a solidarity that assumes this interdependence and places it on a moral plane.

Untitled-105) Concern for peace, a sign of respect for life. and an acute awareness that this peace is the result of effort by everyone. People know that when it comes to peace, either all have it or none have it (all my people).

6) Concern for ecology and an awareness that natural resources are limited. People know that nature integrity and rhythm must be respected.

7) The distinguished efforts of a great number of individuals, governments, politicians, economists, union leaders, scientists who contribute much to heal the ills of the world and work for peace and quality of life.


La Salette – a Message Needed by Everyone


Untitled-11Therefore the evident present-day importance of solidarity, interdependence, the pervasive influence of world problems, the influence of one nation's condition upon other nations and throughout the world, make it crucial for us to stress the command of Our Lady of La Salette to preach her message to all her people.

This command is born less of a desire to be universal than from the need all people have to learn it and to benefit from it, since moral and religious influence is as powerful or even more so than economic, financial or political, and more decisive.

This is probably the reason she pressed the children to make it known to everyone throughout the globe. In fact, the entire message is included, as in a parenthetical whole, in the word "people". "If my people will not submit..."

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